Tickets are bought at the station from which you're departing, before you get on the train. The only exceptions are at such small stations that no one is working the ticket counter there. You'll need to indicate your destination, how many people are going and thus how many tickets you want, whether you want a one-way (einfach) or round-trip ticket, and whether you want second class (zwitter klasse, the norm) or first class (erste klasse, nice but not essential).
You may also want to reserve a seat, which needs to be done a day or more in advance. A ticket only assures you that you can ride a train to a destination, but you may have to stand or to sit on a jump seat. Reservations are an especially good idea for people travelling together, because finding seats together without reservations can be tricky. When you make your reservation, you"ll be asked your preference of a grossraumwagen (an open coach) or an abteilwagen (a car with six-person compartments) and of smoking (raucher) or non-smoking (nicht-raucher).
Bear in mind that a reservation is not a ticket. For example, reserving a seat on a train from Innsbruck to Munich may cost three to four euros. The ticket will cost thirty or so. The conductor will not be amused if you only have a reservation card but not a paid ticket.
Station departure boards will list the platform (gleis) from which your train leaves. Signs over the platform should confirm for you which train will next leave from the platform. A display board on the platform will have a map of the train, showing where the first-class cars, second-class cars, and dining cars are. If you have a reservation, it will show the number of your car, and so you can determine where your car is in the train, which will help you get onto the right car in the mad rush that will ensue as the train pulls in.
Once a train stops, passengers disembarking get off quickly, and then embarking passengers get on hurriedly, because trains are scheduled to have stops of at most three or four minutes. If no one exits from the door you choose and you're the first to enter, you'll probably have to open the door yourself. The doors will close automatically shortly before the train pulls out of the station. If you have romantic notions of Jimmy Stewart saying goodbye and stepping onto a train as it pulls out of a station, that won't work here - get on the train as soon as you can, and stay on.
If you have a reservation and have approached the correct car, you get on and look for your seat number. A card over the seat or on the door of the compartment should show your reservation. If there's someone in your seat, you can reasonably ask them to move.
If you don't have a reservation, you get on a likely-looking car, or some car, and begin cruising for empty seats. When you find one, you then look to see if it's reserved for the interval of travel you need. For example, if you're going from Innsbruck to Salzburg on the Zurich-to-Vienna train, you can sit in a seat reserved from Feldkirch to Imst (both west of Innsbruck) or Linz to Vienna (both east of Salzburg), but not a seat reserved from Imst to Vienna or Innsbruck to Linz. You may need to search more than one car to find an unreserved vacant seat. If people in a compartment are sleeping across multiple unreserved seats, you're quite within your rights to ask them to free up a seat for you.
After the train has left the station, the conductor should come by and stamp your ticket. Hold on to that ticket, because you may need to show it again (and because it's still of value if it's a round-trip ticket). If the conductor has a good memory for faces, and most of them do, he or she won't ask to see your ticket again after other stops, but you'll have to show the ticket if they do ask for it.
Most European train passengers enjoy a quiet trip. Trains are not places for loud conversations or drinking parties, and persons engaging in such behaviour only embarrass themselves and their countrymen. However, many passengers bring a snack, so you can too.
Upcoming stops should be announced by the conductor. When your stop is announced, or when you see station signs for your stop, you should begin collecting your luggage and heading to the door while the train still moves. You're expected to be ready to exit as soon as the train stops.
If you're the first one at the door, you will have to open it yourself. Get off and away from the embarking crowd as soon as you can, and find your way from the platform to the main station. This will commonly involve going down some steps to a walkway under the tracks, and then back up into the station. If you have a lot of luggage, there may be an elevator, an escalator, or a conveyor belt Ð or you may be on your own. You'll probably find busses and taxis outside the station, and so be onto the next phase of your trip. Gute fahrt!
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